Parenting young children can be exhausting—feeling like we are with them every second of their wakeful hours. While we do need to keep an eye on them (especially those 3 and under,) we don’t have to be entertaining them every moment of the day.
This doesn’t mean that we hand over the technology. (Reminder: the CSEP advises no technology for kids 2 and under.) What it does mean is that we take the time to teach independent play. Our kids need to learn to entertain themselves. Here are the 4 steps to teaching this skill.
1. Set up your child to do an activity that they really enjoy. Reading a book, playing with blocks, trains, cars, etc. Let them know that you need to leave the room for a moment and that you know they will be just fine reading their book. Some kids will be fine with this. Others will feel concerned that you won’t be there. If necessary, tell your child that you will be back in 20 counts or at the end of Row Row Row Your Boat. Then, count aloud or sing the song while you are in the other room (bathroom or wherever you go). Be back when you say you will be back.
2. Notice that your child managed well while you were gone. Say, ‘I knew you would do just fine on your own. You do love to read that book.’ Don’t over-praise, just notice.
3. Do this every so often and gradually lengthen the time that you are out of reach With younger kids, ‘out of reach’ could simply mean you are chopping veggies at the counter or folding laundry across the room. You could even be sitting nearby reading your own book or magazine.
4. Extension. Ask your child to choose what they will do while you are reading, chopping, etc. and set them up for success. Eventually, they will be comfortable doing this on their own.
Teaching independent play helps children to learn that they are independent and capable, and that they don’t need technology for their entertainment.
Image of independent play from Shutterstock.
At Parenting Power, we believe that the expectations that we set for our kids in the home are the ones that they will take out into the larger communities. Since children learn what they live, our job as parents is to be sure that we are modelling, teaching and living the values that we believe are important.
So what does that look like on a daily basis?
That depends on your family. Let’s say that you want your kids to take responsibility for keeping the community clean and safe. That begins at home. If there is litter, we pick it up. We create expectations for our kids to be involved in taking dishes to the dishwasher, cleaning the table, putting garbage in the garbage can, etc.
Once that becomes the norm, we take it out into the community. Perhaps we are picking up litter on a walk or tidying up the chairs after a school performance. When we model and expect responsibility from our children, they learn what they live.
Connection with community, whether it is family, neighbourhood, school or beyond is really about interdependence—sharing your strengths with those who need them and asking for help when you have an area of weakness. This is how we build relationships. This can be a great discussion topic for a family dinner or a car ride, or the holidays. You might ask, ‘What strengths do we have that we can share with our neighbours, school, or team?’ This is a great way to get kids thinking about how they can contribute to the community. Perhaps you will shovel snow, do some baking, drive someone in the community or take a snack to soccer practice.
Getting kids involved in community is as easy as asking the question.
Image of collecting trash from Shutterstock